FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Baby Steps to a Better Marriage

with Dr. David Clarke | January 4, 2008
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Does your marriage need a little coaching? On the broadcast today, Dr. David Clarke, a Christian psychologist and author of The Total Marriage Makeover, gives helpful advice to couples wanting to break out of the marriage slump.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Does your marriage need a little coaching? On the broadcast today, Dr. David Clarke, a Christian psychologist and author of The Total Marriage Makeover, gives helpful advice to couples wanting to break out of the marriage slump.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Does your marriage need a little coaching?

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Baby Steps to a Better Marriage

With Dr. David Clarke
January 04, 2008
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Bob: Hi, this is Bob Lepine.  On today's edition of our program, FamilyLife Today, we're going to be having a candid conversation about the subject of romance and intimacy in marriage.  It's the kind of conversation where you may want to have younger listeners distracted and doing something else while you listen to the program, or you may decide to listen to it later on our website at  We just wanted to give you a heads up as we begin today's program.

 How did you say goodbye to your wife when you left home this morning?  Dr. David Clarke has some counsel for you about how to do it tomorrow morning.

David: I recommend that when you leave in the morning, you take your wife in your arms, whether she's still in bed or not, you kiss her a real kiss – lipsmacking, gum scorching, ah!, type of a kiss, and then you say, "I love you," with her name, Sandy in my case, of course, I get the name right, and then you'd say, "And you are a beautiful woman," and you tell her one thing that makes her beautiful.  Now, that is a package.  She won't want you to go.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 4th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  If your marriage could use a little freshening up, or maybe it could use a lot more than that, we've got some helpful counsel for you today.  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You know, I've heard about guys who were in a hitting slump, baseball players, you know, who were just not hitting, and they get a …

Dennis: I experienced one of those in high school.

Bob: For what?  A couple of years?

Dennis: Yeah, it was actually four years.  I pitched.

Bob: Pitchers aren't supposed to hit, are they?

Dennis: I don't think so, but I was in a pitching slump, too, as I recall.

Bob: Well, you know, you think of a guy in the majors who has gone 0 for 27, you know, his last 27 times at bat.  He can get a batting coach to come over alongside him and watch his swing, and he can say, you know, "If you just correct this a little bit." 

Dennis: I needed that batting coach.

Bob: If you can just raise your shoulder or your elbow or whatever, and the guy is back on track.  You've seen that happen, right?

Dennis: I have.

Bob: And the same is true with some couples who are in a marriage slump.  If you can just get a coach to come alongside and give you a few little calibrations, you may be able to pull out of the slump, you know?

Dennis: Well, Coach David Clarke is joining us on the broadcast.

Bob: Coach Clarke!

Dennis: Coach Clarke, welcome to the broadcast.

David: Thank you.

Dennis: We have a bunch of marriage – well, I won't call them marriage "hitters."

Bob: Slumpers.

Dennis: Slumpers – a group that needs some help in breaking out of their slumps, but let me just tell you a little bit about Coach Clarke that will qualify him as the one to help you out of your slump that Bob is talking about here.

 Dr. David Clarke is a Christian psychologist.  He is the author of a number of books, a speaker at his seminars across the country, and for the past – how many years – have been counseling couples?

David: It's been 20-plus years now.

Dennis: I was thinking it was 20 years.

David: Yeah, it is.

Dennis: So that qualifies him, that qualifies him to be a coach.

Bob: He can give you a little calibration, yes.

David: Sure, sure.

Dennis: He has written a book called "The Total Marriage Makeover," and let's get right to it, Coach Clarke.  Where would you start with the men if you wanted to have a total makeover with a man?

David: I would say, "Gentlemen, you need to talk to your woman.  She did not marry you for your stunning good looks.  Infatuation is past, hopefully, she still thinks you're good-looking, but she wants to be close to you, she wants to know what you're thinking, what you're feeling.  Women universally want that.  Men, universally, resist it, and aren't good at sharing.  Pass the mustard, you know, I'm fixing the mower, you know, I'd like to have sex, these are kind of the basic things men say.  Well, we've got to go deeper than that, men."

 So what you've got to do, and there are some tips in the book, obviously, we'll cover a few.  She wants to know from your heart.  You don't have to do this for any other woman, just that woman, the woman you're married to.

Bob: Why is it that guys are reticent about being communicators.  I mean, it does seem like women are more verbal, it seems like guys are more of a "just the facts" type. That's not always the case, but that's kind of the common approach.  Is there something about us that we just don't like to talk that much?

David: You know, we're just sticks.  I mean, your basic man is very logical and likes to excel in areas of competence.  He is also into control, and that can be a healthy thing, and we're not into the vulnerable, personal – that's just built-in hardwiring from God.  Now, add to that, that my dad didn't do it, I've got no modeling.  My grandpa didn't do it, all the men around me, I don't ever see them share personally with a woman. 

 We talk about sports, we talk about mechanical things – we just don't learn how.  Then when the woman starts pressing us for this, because that's what she wants, even though we love her, there is this automatic defensiveness.  "I've got to be vulnerable – I'm not good at this, number one.  Number two, I don't know what she's looking for.  I've never really" – so all those things add up, and so we begin to resist – that hurts her, that offends her, that causes her to fall out of love with us, and if we're not sharing with her, we'll actually fall out of love with her, because we're not close to her.

Dennis: Okay, so where do you start?  He's in your office, he's seated across the table from you.  He's saying, "Guilty as charged.  I can relate to my lawnmower a lot easier than I can my wife.  I don't know about this stuff of relationships like you're talking about."

Bob: Adjust my swing here, Dr. Clarke.

Dennis: That's right.

David: You say, "Sir, what you do today is go to a drugstore and buy a little pad, and I want to have a pen attached to that pad, and you're going to carry that pad everywhere you go.  And when things happen to you during the day, sir – I'm going to call him 'Bob' …

Bob: Thanks a lot.

Dennis: That would be a good name.


David: In fact, Bob was in my office, I recognize you – just kidding.  You're going to jot down, you're preparing to talk to your woman tonight.  In fact, we'll back it up – you've got to establish four 30-minute talk time with your woman every week, sir.  Your job, you're the leader, and so you're going to have to sit down with her for that many times a week just so we can create conversation.

Bob: Four times 30 minutes at a time.

David: Thirty minutes at a time.

Dennis: Bob wasn't thinking of it being cumulative two hours.

Bob: Thirty minutes at a time.

David: Thirty minutes at a crack – now, if I'm generous, we maybe start with 10 or 15 to kind of get you into the flow.

Bob: Right.

David: But she'll be talking, too, Bob, don't worry.  Now, most men, they go through the day, they need the pad because we forget – if I'm preparing to talk to Sandy tonight, if I go through today, and as great as this day has been, and we'll have some great conversations – if I don't write down what happened, my impressions, how I had lunch with the guys, and how neat it was, and the experience – I won't have anything to say to her because I won't remember.  Guys forget everything.  You can't trust your memory, you don't have a memory.

 She remembers everything.  Coming down the birth canal, it's all clear.  Sir – he says, "Well, I'll feel like an idiot jotting down things to say to her."  I'll say, "You'll feel like a real idiot when you have nothing to say when she says 'How was your day,' and you say 'Okay,' or 'I don't know.'

Dennis: Or it was good.

David: Yeah, good, well that tells me quite a bit.  So I have men all across this country with pads, you may have seen them.  They're jotting things down after lunches, impressions, memories, I mean, things will come up for as, as men, that if we don't jot it down, we forget.

Dennis: Right.

David: And when you sit in front of your lady, I'll guarantee you this, sir, I'll say, and you bring out your pad, she'll be thrilled.  "You thought about me today?  You jotted down things to say to me?"  That impresses her – that draws her close.

Bob: You know, this happened to me last night.  Mary Ann and I connected after a long day.  I had worked here until late.  She had had to go to orchestra practice at church, and so we hadn't seen each other at dinner, and she gets home, I think it was 9:15, right?

Dennis: Now, one thing we need our listeners to know about Mary Ann – the lights go out for her …

Bob: She's an early-to-bed kind of person.

Dennis: Usually around 9:30 at night, right?

Bob: But she's in at 9:15, and she says to me, "So what happened today?"

 Now, it's been a long time since the day started for me, right?  I mean, I start to think, "Well, what did happen today?  Okay, I was" …

Dennis: To his point, huh?

Bob: That's right, I didn't have my pad.  So I think, "Okay, well, I was in that meeting from nine until noon, and, as I remember it, it was a fairly boring meeting that I was in, right?

Dennis: I heard it was a good meeting.


Bob: Just kind of tuned that one out.  And then I was in another meeting from noon to 1, and it was about radio station stuff, and it was fine, but I'm thinking, "She's not going to care about radio station stuff," right? 

 And then I was in the studio that afternoon, and I was doing production kind of stuff, you know, just kind of production stuff.  So for me it was kind of an average day, nothing really exciting happened.

Dennis: That wasn't what she wanted to hear.

Bob: No, and I'm trying to think, "Okay, where are the juicy details of my day?"  And I'm thinking I didn't have any juicy details today.

David: You're living a terribly boring life.

Bob: Yes.  So if a guy is thinking, you know, it's an average day, nothing really exciting happened, what does he say?

David: See, that's not true.  You think that's true because you don't remember the things that happened, but nobody's life is that boring, not even yours, please. 

Dennis: I can promise you, I've been in meetings with Bob.  I can promise you – he's a livewire.

Bob: I don't allow them to get boring.

David: You both are livewires.

Dennis: They do not become boring with Bob in there.

David: See, if you have an emotion, and you have to train guys.  Their first list is not very impressive.  They report events or facts – "went to the drugstore, bought a pen because mine was out of ink."  Well, that's not really that scintillating.  Okay, well, we have to work on emotion, interaction with someone else, "I thought of you" – that's always – "I thought of you."

 Now, how about this, if you're a Christian man, you are walking with the Lord today.  He is guiding you in your life.  That's always good material.  She'll love to hear that.  My quiet time this morning – I could tell Sandy about that because I had one in the hotel room, and some things that came out, hey, if I don't jot it down, poof, gone.

Bob: Right.

David: So that's going to be an excellent tool.  Now, she doesn't need a pad.  She's got it all – but you need a pad.

Bob: You know, I did have one day where I called Mary Ann out of the blue, and I just said, "I'm just calling to see how you're doing.  I was thinking about you, and I just called to see how you were doing."  And she said, "I'm okay."  And I said, "Well, good, I was just thinking about you."  And she said, "Uh-huh, so what are you really calling about?  What do you want?"

 And I said, "No, I was just thinking about you," and she went, "Okay, right.  So why did you call?"  "Well, just because I was thinking about you."  "Uh-huh, so what do you want?"

 And I thought, I'm really bad at this if that's where she – you know, if every time I call it's got an agenda.  I need to start calling a little more often.

Dennis: Yeah, no doubt about it.  Okay, let's go to the second area men need, and they need to know how to meet their romantic needs of their wives.

David: Oh, yeah, and men are notoriously bad at this.  We romance the women prior to marrying her.  We're not idiots.  That's required if we're going to say "I do."  But then very shortly after marriage, we drop it, and when you drop the romance, the woman assumes you don't love her anymore, and she's absolutely right.  That's her heart.

 We see in the Song of Solomon how Solomon pursued the Shulamite woman, his bride, and then, of course, his wife, and he knew what he was doing.  We can learn from him, and there's material in the book that will help you – verbal romance.  We've touched on that already – verbally romance her.  You not only believe she's beautiful, but you tell her every day.

 I recommend that when you leave in the morning you take your wife in your arms, whether she's still in bed or not, you kiss her a real kiss – lipsmacking, gum scorching, ah!, type of a kiss, so she knows she's been kissed.

Bob: Wait, that's a "hahaha!"

Dennis: Yeah, "Whoa."

David: And then you say, "I love you," with her name, Sandy in my case, of course, I get the name right, and then you'd say, "And you are a beautiful woman," and you tell her one thing that makes her beautiful.  Now, that is a package.  She won't want you to go.  You might be pulled back into the bed.  Now, we don't want to get carried away, but it could happen.

 When you get home, like, you called her in the day, and you might say something else nice, you're complimenting her.  When you come home, the same thing needs to be repeated.

 Solomon described his wife's navel.  He was crazy about her feet!  Four lines in the book of Song of Solomon on her teeth.  I mean, this is absurd.  No, it's not.  He wanted her to know she was beautiful, and he was convincing her, and she was convinced.  And a woman has to be convinced every day.  The culture we live in is horrible on women.  The airbrush Dennis was talking about, these babes that are parading around, they're in competition with them.

 Well, not in our eyes.  We want them to know there is no competition.  "I love you, you are the mother of my children, you are the most beautiful woman in the world," and we've got to convince her every day, and if you do that, boy, it will come back the other way.

Dennis: You know, as you were talking, I couldn't help but just reflect on some recent conversations I've had with Barbara where I've come home from work, and we're going through a unique time in our marriage because we're doing some remodeling in our home.

Bob: The house is pretty tore up, isn't it?

Dennis: It's kind of – it has been a nice test, but it's also been a camping out experience for us together as a couple, because we've had a lot to talk about, and in the process of doing that, I've noticed that I'm more attracted to her because we're talking about a lot of stuff.  We're talking about, you know, what we want on the walls and the floor and, you know, different things that go into the process, and we're sharing a lot of decisions together and a lot of life together, and I've found, many times, I look at her, and I'll just say, "You really are spectacular. You really are beautiful," and she goes, "Really?"

 And it's like I'm telling her for the first time all over again, and I don't understand this about my wife, but I do understand it about her.  She needs to hear that repeatedly from me with a sparkle in my eye.

Bob: So you'd recommend remodeling as a way to …

Dennis: I would not, I would not.

Bob: Has it helped your marriage?

Dennis: It's a tough way to go to get that intimacy, but I can affirm what David is talking about here as a coach.  This is a way to break out of the slump.  I mean, men who give their wives this kind of attention will find that their wives will respond to that.

Bob: All right, let's turn the tables and go to the wives who find themselves in a little bit of a marital slump.  Where would you recommend they begin?

David: The first place I'd start would be praising the man.  This is absolutely vital.  One of the deepest needs of a man is to be praised.  Now, that gets to respect.  We see that in the Bible, of course, Ephesians 5:33.  Directly to wives, "Respect your husbands."  Now, you can't respect a man unless you're praising him.  And, again, we look at the Song of Solomon – the Shulamite woman was a master at this.  All the way through the book, she was impressed with Solomon.  Every man on earth that's married wants his woman to be impressed with him.

 Sandy is impressed that I’m on FamilyLife Today, and she should be.


 And she was honoring me, and, of course, we're praying about it the last couple of days, and I live on that.  I mean, she's the one I want to impress with everything I do – the Lord first, but then Sandy is number two.

 Now, it's her job to let me know that she is impressed in whatever I do.  So men need praise, and that can be as simple as when he takes the trash out, running down the driveway, meeting him halfway, giving the high five.  "Thanks for that trash, baby, hoo, down low," you know?

 And for working at his job and for any behavior you like and for who he is, his integrity, his job as a dad, if he's a father; what he's doing as a husband.  You can shape a man's behavior – it's just like training a seal, frankly, but you can shape him by praising him for things you like.

Dennis: Hold it, hold it, hold it, you just compared men to seals.

David: I was talking about Bob.


Bob: And wives the seal trainers.  I'm following the whole analogy here, but it really is interesting.  I teach an adult Sunday school class at our church, so most Sundays I am teaching.  And when I'm done, when we're riding home from church, I always debrief with Mary Ann.  How do you think things went this morning?  Any feedback?  And I really value her opinion.  She is a good – she gives good feedback, and helps me do better.

 But that's only part of the reason I ask, "How did things go this morning?" and for the feedback, because I'm also looking for her to say "You did good."

David: Exactly.

Bob: Because when she does, it feels good.

Dennis: And her opinion, out of anyone in that class or in the audience, is the one you can count on because sometimes – and you know this has happened, you've asked the question, and she said, "Well, you've had better days."

Bob: That's right.

Dennis: But it's that honesty that gives credence to her compliments when they come.

Bob: And I'll have four or five guys come up and say, "It was a great class, it really helped," you know, and they'll talk, and that's affirming, but in the car on the way home, that's the opinion that matters, and it does validate who you are as a man for your wife to affirm you in that way.

David: Oh, it makes you feel like a man, and then, of course, you respond to that.  Shulamite woman said Solomon was handsome, charming, called him "outstanding young stag," which means "stud" in today's language.  That's what a man needs to near, and he will respond to that. 

 So I had the ladies, when you're involved in kissing, it should come back the other way – you can use "outstanding," or say something about him that would respect him – "I appreciate you for this."  You can say he's attractive, that's fine, and mention something like the Shulamite does, and needs to be, "Yes, you're this way, and here is why."  Men will just live on that all day then want to come back home to you.

Dennis: That's right.  If you see how the book begins in Song of Solomon, chapter 1 she's respecting him for his character; that it's pure like olive oil, like a highly refined oil, and you have to believe that, as a man, Solomon had his chest puffed out a bit.

David: Oh, definitely.

Dennis: To feel like his wife is recognizing that he has character; that he is a good man not just a man, but a really good man.  A woman's words either make her husband, or they break her husband.  She can choose words that build him up or tear him down.  I think it's why the writer of Proverbs said it's better to live in an attic in the corner …

Bob: A corner of the roof, yeah.

Dennis: Yeah, in a dark spot with the spiders than with a nagging wife, with a wife who is chipping away at his value as a man.

Bob: All right, so the first coaching tip for the wives is to affirm your husband verbally.

David: Every day.

Bob: What's number two?

David: Number two is also important – be playful and particularly pursue him sexually, absolutely critical.  I've done some shocking research in the last probably five or six years.  I'm glad we're all sitting down here.

Bob: Yes?

David: I hope, if you're listening, hold onto something, this is going to be a shocker – physical affection and sex are important to men. I mean, can you believe it?  It's a God-given need.

Dennis: How long did it take you to come to that conclusion?

David: Oh, 20 minutes.  People know that.

Bob: And it's interesting because those two things that you've just talked about – verbal affirmation and physical responsiveness – can be tied together because I have said to Mary Ann, "You can affirm me verbally throughout the day, but if you are not responsive in a physical sense, it makes me scratch my head and go, 'Were you just kidding about all that stuff you were saying earlier in the day?'  You know?

David: Exactly, that's canceled out.

Bob: Yeah.  All of a sudden, it's like, well, if I'm that great a guy, wouldn't you want to be with me?

Dennis: Right.

David: Our sexuality, it cannot be removed from us.  It's part and parcel, and there's only one person on the earth who can touch that need – obviously, that's the woman.

Bob: Now, I have to ask you here, because we get letters, a lot of letters, more in the last few years than we've seen ever from wives who say "What you just described is not the case in my marriage."  In fact, it's the opposite.  The wife says "I am playful, I am aggressive, I am trying to pursue my husband.  He isn't interested."

David: I hear more of that, too?

Bob: What's going on there?

David: You know, what's happening, and it could be martially based.  I will take a hard look at the wife and many wives think they're doing the right thing, in fact, they're not.  They're making some mistakes, they're not doing their job well enough, and so there is a breakdown.  But it could very well be something is going on in his life.  He has, unknown to her, become addicted to pornography, other women in his mind, he's got a performance issue.  As men, we're performance-based.  If it doesn't work one time, "I've lost it!" and we lose our – if it doesn't work, I've lost my confidence.  We don't want to talk about it, and so even though we love the woman, it's so humiliating, I'm just going to back off.  That's very often the case.  Stress issues.

 So as I work with a man in that situation, I say, "Look, sir, we cannot do this alone.  You're married.  I'm going to get you ready, I'm going to bring your wife in here the next session, and we're going to talk about this.  She's got to know.  We're a team on this, and so together there are exercises and understanding and most women, 99 percent, are going to be totally on board with that.

 So that's how you work that through, but there is something going on that can be addressed.

Dennis: David, you are really touching on the differences between men and women and their needs being different.  And wives need to understand their husbands, husbands need to understand their wives.  They need to be equipped, and I just appreciate you being on our broadcast, writing this book, and offering some – well, some practical marriage advice as a coach for those who are having a slump in this area.

Bob: And you know what I'm thinking – a lot of the things we've talked about are themes we've visited here on FamilyLife Today, but that doesn't mean that we don't need an adjustment from time to time.  We don't need to be reminded it is good to revisit these, and I think some listeners might go, "Yeah, I've heard that."

 All right, well, you've heard it, but when was the last time you did it, you know?  When was the last time you made a change?

Dennis: And have you lost heart in investing in your marriage.  I think what David is encouraging us to do is no matter where you are, whether you've been married five months or 50 years, you shouldn't ever lose the playfulness of pursuing one another, thinking about the other person's needs and finding a way to minister to them.

Bob: And, again, the reality is that we all need a little help from time to time, we need somebody to give us a nudge and get us pointed in the right direction, and I think that's what your book does, David.

 The book is called "The Total Marriage Makeover," and if our listeners are interested in getting a copy, it's in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and you can order a copy when you go online at  Click the red button in the middle of the screen that says "Go," and that will take you to an area of the site where there is more information about Dr. Clarke's book.  Again, you can order from our website, if you'd like.  The Web address is, click the red button that says "Go."

 You can also call 1-800-FLTODAY and request a copy of the book.  Again, it's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  When you call, someone on our team will make arrangements to have a copy of the book sent out to you.

 One other resource I want to make sure you're aware of – Dennis and Barbara Rainey have just written a daily devotional book for couples.  It's called "Moments With You" – 365 devotions for husbands and wives to do together.  There is a page a day that you can read to one another, it gives you something to talk about and something to pray about, it helps you build a stronger relationship with God and with one another, and we're hoping a lot of couples will make this a daily discipline in the New Year.

 We'd love to send you a copy of this book as a thank you gift for a donation of any amount this month to the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  So you can go online and make your donation at or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make your donation over the phone.

 If you're donating online, just be sure as you fill out the donation form, when you come to the keycode box, type in the word "moments," and we'll know to send you a copy of the book.  Or if you call to make your donation over the phone, just mention that you'd like the devotional from Dennis and Barbara.  Again, it's called "Moments With You."  We'd be happy to send it out to you as our way of saying thanks for your financial partnership with this ministry.  We appreciate your listening, and we appreciate your support of FamilyLife Today.

 Well, I hope you are able to worship with your family together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday.  Jimmy and Karen Evans are going to be here, and we're going to hear about how their marriage got off to a very rocky start and how they have had to learn some things along the way.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  Have a great weekend, and we'll see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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